Richard H. Schwartz
Richard H. Schwartz
Vegan, climate change,and social justice activist

Relating Parshat Noah to today’s climate crisis

There are many lessons from Parshat Noach (Noah) that can be applied in response to today’s climate crisis.

Noach built an ark for 120 years but people did not believe that a catastrophic flood was coming. After all, why would anyone believe a crazy idea from a seemingly obsessed, delusional person when there was no other warning or indication of an impending flood?
Today, we do not have a Noach, or a Jeremiah, who also had no success in warning people to change there ways in order to avoid destruction, and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has been building an ark. But we do have science academies worldwide, an estimated 97 percent of climate experts, and virtually all of hundreds of peer-reviewed articles in respected scientific journals warning us of climate change threats. And, contrary to the period when Noach was building the ark, we have been receiving many wake-up calls: three consecutive years of record temperatures worldwide; three category 4 or 5 hurricanes within about a month; unprecedented wildfires destroying whole towns in California; an iceberg the size of the state of Delaware breaking off in Antarctica; severe droughts in many countries, including Israel where the Sea of Galilee is near record lows, at a level so low that water can’t be safe pumped out of it, and much more.

We can’t afford at this critical time the kind of apathy and denial exhibited by the generation of Noah’s time and also by many people today.

How to respond? There are many lessons from parshat Breishit (Genesis) that was read just last week. Many people misinterpret the dominion that God gave to humans in Genesis 1:26 as a license to exploit nature for our benefit without concern for the consequences. But our sages indicated that dominion means responsible stewardship, our obligation to preserve the environment. This analysis is reinforced by Genesis  1:29, God’s initial vegan dietary regimen, and by Genesis 2:15, which indicates that the first human being was put into Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) to work the land, but also to guard or preserve it. We are to be Shomrei Adamah, guardians of the earth.This is also reinforced by a midrash that indicates that God took Adam to see the beauties of creation and told him not to despoil or destroy the world, for if he did so, there would be no-one after him to restore it.(Kohellet Rabba 7:28)

The haphTorah (prophetic reading) read last week has the prophet Yeshayahu (Isaiah) indicating that Jews are to be a “light unto the nations” and to be God’s witnesses. We are to witness what is happening and make every effort to preserve God’s precious, but imperiled, planet.

in a brilliant message last year on climate change threats, “Noah, Superman, and Global Warming,” Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, analyses the current climate crisis, and concludes:

“God has taken an oath that God would no longer bring another flood to destroy the world. God will not send another flood, and God will not send another Noah. It is all in our hands now. We will either bring the next flood, or we will save ourselves from it. But the water is rising, and we must act before it is too late. We must be the custodians of the world that God has charged us to be.”

It is urgent that we heed these wise words and those of Isaiah above and other Jewish teachings to do everything possible to help shift our imperilled planet onto a sustainable path.

About the Author
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at He is President Emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.” He is also a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Staten Island, which is part of the City University of New York.
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